NEW YORK (AP) - Early last October, NBC unveiled the 16-member cast of "Celebrity Apprentice" to reporters. Everyone on hand at the locked-down news conference swore to keep the participants' identities a secret until NBC said "go."
With NBC now issuing its cue Thursday to go public, the major media can take pride at having kept the lid on names like country music's Clint Black, TV personality Khloe Kardashian and former "Baywatch" babe Brande Roderick.
Those don't-I-know-him-or-her-from-somewhere? stars will be competing for the title of Celebrity Apprentice when the reality series returns for its eighth season March 1.
Others risking the wrath of Donald Trump in the boardroom will include Olympic figure skating gold medalist Scott Hamilton, singer Brian McKnight, comedian Tom Green and former football great Herschel Walker. Also poker champ Annie Duke, pro golfer Natalie Gulbis, "Deal or No Deal" model Claudia Jordan, singer Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and former "Monster Garage" host Jesse James, a custom bike and car builder.
Oddly, the only notable leaks from an otherwise unified media front occurred on late-night TV, within days of the top-secret briefing.
"Joan and Melissa Rivers! Dennis Rodman! Andrew Dice Clay!" cackled David Letterman of CBS'"Late Show," outing four of the contestants in his monologue before he mused, "And the celebrities are ...?"
Even NBC's own Conan O'Brien spilled a few beans during a "Late Night" monologue. After blurting out a couple of the show's semiboldface players, he cracked, "Apparently the new season of the show is called 'Celebrity Apprentice: 1988.'"
Presiding over the news conference last fall, Trump insisted the cast was bigger, better, hotter than ever.
"There are some major superstars in this group," he declared, without getting specific.
The 16 celebrities will not be vying for a job with Trump, as in past civilian "Apprentice" seasons, but instead will compete in business-oriented tasks around Manhattan to raise money for their favorite charities. (McKnight's chosen charity is Youthville USA, while Watkins will be playing for the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia, and Kardashian has chosen the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Awareness.)
Seated at Trump's elbow, the celebs were happy to anticipate the challenges awaiting them as soon as the next day, when they would start taping.
Hamilton acknowledged having watched the prior season and wondering "if I had the skill set to pull it off, because it was pretty confrontational last year. I'm a pretty easygoing, nice person."
Clay, a one-time scandalous standup comic, said he was doing the show because of his two teenage sons.
As he explained, "When they watched the show, they'd go, 'Dad, you would do great on the show,' and I'd look at them, like: 'Really?'"
"I have a competitive nature," said Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy as a junior at the University of Georgia, "but this (show) is really different, where some people are conniving and cheating. I say, I'm gonna stay true to my morals."
Then he grinned disarmingly and drawled, "I tell 'em, I'm just a little country boy from Georgia."
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